Turning Stone Resort Casino: A Standout in an Increasingly Crowded Gaming Field

Conversation with Ray Halbritter, Oneida Indian Nation Representative and Nation Enterprises CEO

First, for those of us who haven’t visited Turning Stone, give us a glimpse into what makes this casino different and why it should be on someone’s bucket list.

Turning Stone Resort Casino is an award-winning destination resort in Upstate New York, proudly owned and operated by the Oneida Indian Nation. Our world-class amenities include four hotels, two spas, five golf courses, more than 20 dining options, a Las Vegas-style gaming floor, a cabaret-style showroom, a concert arena and several nightlife venues.

We are a 35-minute drive from Syracuse and just four hours from New York City, Boston and Toronto. Every year we welcome more than 4.5 million visitors from around the country.

Since its opening in 1993, Turning Stone has achieved the highest awards in the hospitality, leisure and gaming industries. In 2019/2020, these accolades included 18 “Best of” awards from Casino Player Magazine, including the highest honor of being named the No 1. Best Overall Gaming Resort. Additionally, Turning Stone is the only resort in New York to earn four Forbes Four-Star Awards and three AAA Four-Diamond Awards at one property.

These honors are a reflection of the many qualities that make Turning Stone Resort Casino such a standout in an increasingly crowded gaming field. As a flagship entity of Oneida Nation Enterprises, Turning Stone exemplifies the best of what the industry has to offer: excellent guest service, top-notch amenities and an eye toward innovation and exceeding expectations.

The Lodge @ SunsetSince the state issued commercial gaming licenses in the last few years, your well-established casino is now surrounded by “heavyweights,” such as Resorts World Casino, del Lago Resort & Casino and Rush Street Gaming’s Rivers Casino & Resort Schenectady. What has the impact been on Turning Stone? How did you prepare for this increased competition?

From the day we opened Turning Stone, we conducted business as if our competition was right across the street. The fact of the matter is that we have a 25-year head start on our new competitors. We’ve put more than a billion dollars into the ground in terms of our capital investments, and we have achieved the type of guest loyalty that can only be achieved through years of building relationships. Our goal is to always be the newest and best casino in New York State. That mindset has motivated us to keep an eye towards the future – to get a sense of what social, political and cultural developments are on the horizon. It has also made us very good at anticipating what our guests want from their gaming and leisure experience – and then setting out to exceed those expectations.

In everything we do – from capital improvements to property expansions and acquisitions – our mission is to innovate and expand upon what we have learned in the past to make something better in the future.

Your players must have been curious about the new properties opening up; tell us about your training, marketing and loyalty strategies that you would recommend to other Tribal properties that are facing increased competition.

Experience has shown us that to be truly successful, exemplary guest service must come first. We could have the most spectacular facilities, but without genuine hospitality and care for our guests, Turning Stone would not be the business that it is today.

Of course, people are going to try and check out new places, but what we’ve found is that has actually helped us in many ways. Our guests know to expect a certain level of service at our properties. With new properties it can be a crapshoot depending on the day. We have found that guests like consistency – especially when you are delivering a great product.

Our guests also understand that we are not a commercial gaming enterprise; we are a Tribal gaming enterprise that is forever tied to our region. In other words, we are a captive industry, so there is an understanding that we are part of the community in ways that our competitors are not.

Unlike commercial gaming enterprises, in every decision that we make, we consider its effect onto the seventh generation. With this consideration, we make sure that our projects and our partnerships are durable and lasting, and that they have the longevity to positively impact our community and region. That builds goodwill in the community, and helps us maintain loyalty from our guests.

As Tribal gaming facilities are aging, it’s time for many properties to reinvest in infrastructure and new technology. Tell us about key technology that you have integrated into your hotel and gaming floor that has changed the guest experience. What capital improvements have been undertaken in recent years? 

TS Gaming Floor 2Our innovative mindset has allowed us to develop strategic partnerships with companies on the cutting edge of the gaming industry, as well as reinvest in our technology and infrastructure. We have recently worked with Scientific Games, the global leader in interactive casino and lottery gaming, to upgrade our TS Rewards program operating systems.

In the last year, we starting collaborating with Caesars Entertainment to develop our state-of-the-art sports book lounges. Caesars Entertainment is the gold standard in the industry, and we have been able to partner with them based on our shared vision of creating a one-of-a-kind luxury gaming and leisure experience. At Turning Stone, our sports book features a 500-sq.-ft. curved LED screen, custom-made luxury seating and special menus crafted by our award-winning culinary team.

Since its grand opening last year, The Lounge with Caesars Sports has been a huge success with our guests, and we are regularly updating our sports book amenities with the latest technology.

We have also recently collaborated with an iconic Syracuse retailer to open our Commons at Turning Stone, a line of boutique clothing shops in our main hall that is integrated with our guest rewards program.

With regards to the labor market, the Oneida Nation is one of the largest employers in the area with a 90 percent retention rate. You also mentioned that some of these team members drive an hour and a half to get to work. In today’s world of a multi-generational workforce, what are the key components that contribute to this?

We have a workforce of nearly 5,000 team members. The positions that we regularly offer are diverse – from food and beverage to IT, and everything in between.

Such a broad range of jobs attracts people of all ages and skill sets. Our team member benefits and starting salaries are competitive for the Central New York area, and we are always eager to promote talent from within. We have a robust team member-recognition program, as well as advanced training opportunities for interested individuals. All of these features help us retain a loyal workforce and motivate those who may have to commute long distances.

In addition to providing a wealth of job opportunities for residents, hiring local businesses has always been an important part of our business strategy. In 2019, we spent tens of millions of dollars on local vendors: construction and design firms, consultants, food purveyors and regional trade organizations. By working together with regional businesses and other community stakeholders, we help to ensure Central New York’s economic growth.

For more information on Turning Stone Resort Casino visit https://www.turningstone.com/. Joel Barkin, VP of Communications, Oneida Indian Nation, can be reached at jbarkin@oneida-nation.org.

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